Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE BOOK OF ELI - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW




THE BOOK OF ELI - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW
By: THE MAD HATTER

Looking around the blogosphere, I'm about to stand squarely in the minority and try to convince you all that BOOK OF ELI is a good movie. Maybe I think it's good because I expected it to suck. Or maybe it's because I like how it gives its action a moment or two of thoughtfulness. It's both, actually, and more that makes me one of the few who will try to convince you that this latest Denzel ass-kicker is worth your time and money.

Eli (Denzel Washington) used to be a K-Mart greeter. Yes, really. That was before the apocalypse. Nowadays he wanders what's left of America, "heading west," he says, with a scary looking knife, some expensive-ass earbuds, and a large book in his bag. He is seldom shaken from his quest; in fact he has been known to kill people trying to keep him from staying on the path. He does, however, decide to stop in a human settlement when his iPod needs recharging. Yes, really.

The camp is run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a gangster who holds sway over all the townspeople's comings and goings since he controls the water. Carnegie is obsessed with finding a book. Which book? We're not quite sure. When Eli gets into a skirmish with fifteen of his thugs and comes out on top, Carnegie immediately wants Eli working for him. Too bad Eli has no interest in being under Carnegie's employ. Carnegie decides he might get further using his kept woman, Claudia (Jennifer Beals), or rather using her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis).

This is a great move since Solara disarms Eli just enough to find out more about the large books he's hiding, one of which is a bible—exactly the book that Carnegie has been looking for. Carnegie makes his move to forcibly take it, but Eli seems to have a particular gift for protecting it, so much so that he often seems unkillable. Yes, really.


Before I go on, I should say that the movie takes a turn in its final act. Your enjoyment of the film depends entirely on whether or not you want to take that turn with it. I went with the trick even though I don't think it completely adds up. The plot device didn't bother me nearly as much as Denzel's pearly white teeth did. It’s post-apocalyptic America. You mean to tell me he's still happening upon Crest White Strips?

Surprisingly, THE BOOK OF ELI is pretty good . . . not great but pretty good. Going past the action which is fun without being excessive, the movie is particularly interested in telling us a story. It's a story that wants us to think about the role religion plays in our world's events. After all, religion has been the cause of some of the worst atrocities committed by human beings, and at the same time, religion has been a guiding light when humanity has had seemingly nothing left. Both sides of this paradox get their due in this movie, and they have their moment without being corny or preachy. Not an easy trick for an action film to turn!

Another detail that I liked about the movie is its brief nod towards how disposable and materialistic our society has become. During a quiet moment, Solara asks Eli about "the world before," and all Eli can answer with is how much mankind owned that they truly did not need. Conversely, he points out, we were wasteful. We would constantly throw away items that people now kill for. I can't help but gravitate towards this subtle warning. I mean if the bomb were to drop somewhere right now, what would be more valuable: the computer I'm writing this blog on or the tube of Chapstick sitting on the desk with it? BOOK OF ELI gives this sort of question its due—not the sort of philosophy you'd expect to get in a shoot-em-up.

These details are what I think make the film worthwhile. It strikes a delicate balance between style and statement, and it really didn't have to. It very easily could have played to its built-in audience of Denzel/action fans, taken its box office, and called it a day. But this sort of movie working a few substantial ideas into the script and trying to give its audience something to take away is rare and indeed, something special.

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